Black people on TV - light, makeup, or something else?

God, I know! I know! I swear, I am not a sock of VCO3!

But I’m watching an old episode of NCIS and I noticed something I’ve seen on other people on other shows - sometimes, black people on TV seem more made up to me.

I’d ask the boyfriend, who works with this stuff for a living, but he’s, no joke, out filming Kid Rock.

What I’m referring to is a particularly matte effect - the NCIS director, specifically in this example, looks very matte as compared to the white characters. He looks like dark skin foundation, very uniform, while the white and Asian actors in the scene (Gibbs and Li (Lee?)) look “normal” - meaning, their skin tones have more variation and they look subtly more natural. Not, you know, “made up”. A look I myself am familiar with, because I am a girl type human and am familiar with how I look when too strongly “made up”, particularly with too much foundation.

I have noticed this in other recorded media with other dark skinned people as well, although I can’t come up with specific examples - scripted TV shows where dark-skinned black people look kind of fakey-fake.

So - is it a physics issue? Does dark skin absorb more light and just look different on camera? Is it a makeup issue - have they not invented makeup for black people that’s as good as the TV makeup they have for white people? Or is it just me, being less experienced in seeing a lot of black people on TV?

Anecdote time: I once sat in on a live broadcast of one of our local news shows. The anchorfolk were white, while the weatherman was African-American. I noticed that his face was powdered at every commercial break, whereas the white anchorpeople were not - apparently due to the fact that his face would seem oilier or shinier more quickly without powder. Whether that was because his skin actually was oilier or whether it was just more noticeable because of his darker skin, I do not know, but something similar could account for what you saw.

Is it any surprise that objects at the lightest end of the spectrum would photograph differently from those at the opposite end?

Obviously it is not and we have all seen bad local commercials where there was a scene with one black guy and a lot of white people and it was all either underexposed or overexposed - but this isn’t quite the same question.

The problem is that white(ish) people’s features are more easily defined because of the effects of shadows whereas black(ish) people don’t tend to show shadows so their facial details are less well defined.

I’ve noticed this very problem recently watching the DVD’s of ‘Peep Show’ which is deliberately not well lit (it’s an effect they’re after) and the main black character’s face is very hard to ‘read’.

If you are prepared to put a lot of effort into makeup you can overcome the problem which is probably the reason for the effects you’ve noticed.

Also note that the problem only appears in 2D, which is why you notice it on television. The whole problem is that you are trying to convert the 2D image to 3D in your mind, and the lack of shadows makes it hard to do.

Glare is much more noticeable on dark skin. A white guy with a shiny forehead is less obvious than a black guy with a shiny forehead.

Actually it really is the same question, just a matter of degree. Black faces (anything dark really) is difficult to photograph becaue of light absorbtion - you need to add a lot more light and then the lighter objects in frame become overexposed, or you have to do fancy things with lighting to compensate - this is more noticeable in TV than in films because TV is normally working on a tighter budget and shooting schedule. Bad local commercials, of course, have even less budget. Makeup could lighten the skin just a touch, and I’m sure if its not terribly well done would look weird compared to the rest of the cast.

Back when I was shooting TV interviews we used to tell subjects not to wear white shirts along with a very dark suit for the same reason - it becomes a challenge to light the suit and the shirt appropriately (to say nothing of the person’s face).